When you’re facing the prospect of an indefinite amount of time spent travelling the world and living out of a backpack, it can be daunting to know what to pack. I spent the weeks before I left England trawling the internet looking for the advice of fellow travellers: should I pack a raincoat (yes), would I need hair straighteners (no), would my childhood teddy bear be too big to fit in my hand luggage (sadly, yes)
Whilst I managed to effectively condense the pile of potential possessions from ridiculous to manageable (sense prevailed in the end, and I decided that I didn’t really need all four beach towels) there are still a few items that unnecessarily made the cut. For those interested in what not to pack, here are 10 things that you should probably leave at home…
1. The selfie stick
The selfie stick. Love it or hate it, it’s become a staple of every tourist’s travel kit in the last couple of years. I have to admit, I loved a bit of selfie stick action back at home, and I know that there’s sometimes for them for some whilst travelling, but please consider for just a minute whether you want to take up valuable backpack space with something that is effectively designed to make you look like a moron. Because there is no way you’re going to be able to have an authentic, organic travel experience wielding one of these. Try as you might to blend into your surroundings, to become ‘one’ with the local comings and goings, the second you whip out a selfie stick, you might as well be wielding a sign that says “look at me, I’m a massive tourist noob!”
It’s also worth pointing out that selfie sticks have become synonymous with wealthy tourists, and are a not-too-subtle way of advertising yourself as a target for thieves. Not only are you waving around an expensive smart phone within easy grabbing distance of an opportunistic passer-by, you’re also marking yourself out as a potential pot-of-gold. If you are determined to use selfie sticks whilst travelling, do so with due prudence and make sure you put your safety first.
2. Nail varnish
Considering that my box of nail varnish at home was about the size of a small country, I thought I was being very restrained by only selecting a few choice colours to take on my travels. In reality, the idea of having freshly manicure nails whilst working as a divemaster is laughable. Finger nails chip within hours of filling tanks, fiddling with equipment and carrying kit up and down the dock is like Kryptonite to nail varnish, and toe nails that spend more time in neoprene booties than fresh air aren’t exactly pedicure-proof.
Just as pretty nails no longer feature on my priority list these days, its rare that I’ll spare a thought for the poor, neglected makeup bag that’s been stuffed to the bottom of my backpack. Occasionally, if I’m feeling particularly fancy, I will stretch to a sweep of mascara, but the ritual of painting on a full face of makeup has become obsolete. It’s actually incredibly refreshing to meet and socialise with people at their most natural. Often after weeks of knowing someone, they’ll add me on Facebook and it’ll take me a few seconds to match the neatly coiffed, heavily made-up face in their profile with the girl who shoves her hair into a quick scruffy bun, throws on a T-shirt and meets you in the bar, fresh-faced and uninhibited.
There are some mornings where I look back at the photos from the night before and wince slightly at the shiny, pink face grinning back at me, but it’s been a real pleasure to discover that vanity is only skin deep, and people are just as keen to get to know you even if your hair is stuck to your forehead and you’re sporting a particularly damp sweaty-upper-lip.
4. A hairdryer
I’m sensing a theme here you know…
If you’re imagining that I’ve spent the last few months living like a bedraggled, half-feral harridan then you’re probably not that far wrong, but the simple fact of the matter beautification is simply not a hugely pressing concern when you’re living on an island. With the heat and humidity reaching near-unbearable levels, wet hair dries within minutes and the mini hairdryer becomes obsolete. I will continue to pack it for the time being though, partly because it’s teeny-weeny-ness is really quite adorable, and partly because it may be useful for blowing up large inflatables. And who doesn’t love an oversized inflatable pool toy?
5. My PADI manuals
If there’s one thing PADI loves more than 80’s wetsuits and cheesy grins, it’s paperwork. Whenever you do any course with PADI, you get given a manual which you’re required to keep. When you’ve worked your way up all the way from Open Water to Instructor, that’s a hell of a lot of books. In fact, on our flight from Roatan to Costa Rica, I had to book in an extra hold bad specifically for all the PADI reading materials. But, although working instructors are required to have a copy of each and every one, I can’t remember when I last opened my ‘Adventures in Diving’ manual. I’ll hang onto them for the instructor training when I’m sure they’ll prove to be useful resources, but after that, I’m going digital.
Ha! Jumpers! I remember when those were things that I needed! Right now, typing this as a film of sweat collects unattractively on my lip (a condition that’s been christened the SULA – Sweaty Upper Lip Alert) the fact that a healthy portion of my backpack is taken up by not one, not two, but five jumpers seems ludicrous. Much as it’s good to have a couple on hand for flying / severe hangover situations, the army of jumpers will be the first thing to be culled when it comes to repacking.
7. Running shoes
It saddens me to admit that my running shoes have become nothing but sad relics of what they once were. Despite my reputation for being the world’s most un-sporty person, I started running at the end of last year and surprised everyone, least of all myself, by finding that I really enjoyed it. I went from a lumbering fitnessphobe to one of those annoying people who tell you that “running’s actually really great if you just give it a chance” in a matter of months, and was proud that I’d finally given my fitness the attention it deserved. So I was determined to keep up the good work when I moved abroad.
This hasn’t happened. For starters, it’s just so goddamned hot. Walking to the local shop is enough to work up a monumental sweat and my resolve seems to be melting in the tropical heat. Secondly, did I mention how hot it is? In my defence, I have made the odd attempt at exercise whilst I’ve been away, and my current line of work is keeping my adequately fit, but I shall henceforth attempt to stop using my trainers as a doorstop and hit the road once again.
8. Fancy face cream
No, this isn’t yet another example of just what a troll I’ve become, but rather an homage to Vitamin D. At home in England, my skin is cause for constant irritation. Literally. My skin goes through phases where it’s so chapped and sore that I wonder if I’m actually half-reptilian and I’m being subjected to its bi-annual attempt at shedding. My face gets red and blotchy at the merest whiff of an artificial additive, and it’s in that bracket that beauticians call ‘sensitive’ and normal people call ‘expensive’. I used to spend literally hundreds of pounds on fancy creams, liquids, serums and salves all just to keep my face from scaring the local children.
So it’s come as a welcome surprise to find that, miracle of miracles, I haven’t needed so much as a squirt of moisturiser since moving abroad. Something about the combination of humidity, natural sunlight and significantly reduced stress-levels has sorted my face right out. It’s no wonder that I’m happily eschewing make-up these days…
9. Polyester clothing
I am not a clothes snob. I know what I like and I would say I have a certain sense of style, but whether my outfit is made up of garments from expensive designers of trusty charity shops is of little importance to me. But one thing I never really had to think about in England was what material my outfit of choice was made from. Our balmy English summers are something of a rarity and, when we are treated to some glorious sunshine, it’s not the powerful exotic kind which prickles your skin with sweat within minutes.
But Central America is a different story. It’s hot. All the time. From waking to sleeping, I haven’t felt cold in months. With my skin screaming out for fresh air and breeze, polyester has become its nemesis, and all the pretty camis and tops that I packed back at home have been eschewed into a neglected section of my wardrobe affectionately known as ‘non-breathable fabric corner’.
10. My engagement ring
Travelling is teaching me to reassess my attachment to material things. But, like anyone, there are a few things that I hold dear above all else. This isn’t because these things are simply “stuff”, but because they represent something special. My engagement ring is one of these things and is, quite literally, the nicest thing that I have ever owned. So it saddens me greatly to put it on this list but, the truth is, I shouldn’t have packed it.
I’ve been lucky so far that after nearly 4 months of travel I have neither experienced nor witnessed any level of crime. I’ve felt safe walking after dark (albeit within reason) and have had no reason to worry about muggings or theft. But there’s no getting around the fact that a shiny diamond ring attracts attention. When I first arrived in Roatan, I had a couple of people ask about my ring and take a closer look. Whilst I chose to interpret these as nothing more than polite interest, there’s always a nagging doubt in the back of my head that their intentions are more ominous. Not wanting to make myself a target, I made the decision to stop wearing my ring, and it’s now made its way safely back to the UK.
I miss it on my finger every day. Not because it’s pretty (which it is), not because it’s shiny (so shiny), but because it reminds me of one of the happiest days of my life. But whilst it’s a beautiful symbol of my relationship, the memories I’m making now whilst living out this incredible adventure side-by-side with my husband are beautiful enough to take its place in its absence.
What have you regretted taking with you while travelling? Have you ever sacrificed precious luggage space for something completely impractical?